Monday, November 03, 2008

Traffic congestion: 'The condition of the city'

One of the most influential human beings in the world of architecture, planning, development, city growth and urban design is in town this week for a transportation conference. Andres Duany (ranked No. 5 on Builder magazine's list of the most powerful people in the planning industry) is giving a public talk this Wednesday 5:30-7 p.m. at the Levine Museum uptown.

Then he'll attend a three-day transportation summit conference by the Congress for the New Urbanism. Yep, Charlotte will be fairly crawling with New Urbanists. Here's a link for more about Duany, if you're not familiar with him and his work. Here's a link to information on the conference. (Correction: It's Congress, not conference, for the New Urbanism. Too much typing fast. My apologies.)

In a nutshell, Andres and his wife and business partner, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, helped found the whole New Urbanist movement.

You'll hear a lot of different definitions of New Urbanism, especially from developers and/or rival architects, many of whom paint it as a movement seeking only nostalgic houses with front porches. That's a simplistic look at a complex set of ideas.

In a nutshell, New Urbanism seeks to model new development on the successful, human-friendly designs of decades past.

I've heard Duany lecture over the years, and among the ideas that has stuck with me is this: When re grappling with the problem of traffic congestion, he said, remember: "Congestion is the condition of the city." Whether it's flocks of goats, ox-drawn carts, people on foot, people on horseback, carriages, cars, SUVs, buses, Jetson-style flying saucers, whatever. Cities are crowded places, and they are going to be congested.

What matters is whether people can get around in a multitude of ways: by car, on foot, bicycle, train, streetcar, bus -- the whole panoply of transportation options.

Love his ideas or hate them, Duany is always provocative, always an incisive observer of American (and world) societies.